The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

June 23, 2013

Veteran presented WWII award

JOHNSTOWN — An 88-year-old World War II veteran, who never forgot the debt all of us owe to those who served back then or through the years that followed, was honored by Richland Post 849, American Legion, at ceremonies Sunday in the post home.  

T/Sgt. Robert Tinsmith, a combat engineer during the war with service in France and Germany, was presented the post’s second annual World II Honors Award by Robert Statler, post commander.

“I have never known anyone who was more dedicated to remembering the sacrifices of those who gave their time and, in many cases, their lives to protecting their country and the freedom of life we still enjoy today,” Statler said.     

Tinsmith attends all the funeral services for deceased veterans in the Johnstown area.

“I haven’t missed a military funeral here in 25 years,” he said. “But,” he admits, “I no longer march in the parades on Memorial and Veterans Day. At 88, I’m just too old.”  

Tinsmith also serves on the ritual team of Johnstown Post 155, Veterans of Foreign War. As a member of that team, he has attended Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies at war veterans’ grave sites for the past eight years.   

The ritual team starts the trip to veterans’ graves at the Veterans Memorial at the Johnstown Knights of Columbus on Main Street, proceeding to Grandview Cemetery, then on to cemeteries in Jackson and East Taylor townships.

Statler also hailed Tinsmith’s own military record as a reason to cite him for World War II honors.

Tinsmith arrived in Normandy two days after the invasion in 1944 as a member of the 285th Combat Engineers, who were trained to destroy enemy weapons and tanks by shooting hand grenades at the tank’s undercarriage or at its “boogey wheels.”

The French, through the late U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha’s office, later awarded Tinsmith a medal. Tinsmith had other duties in addition to blowing up enemy equipment. As the war neared its end, he was assigned to a “cigarette” camp – camps named after popular cigarettes of the day – Lucky Strikes, Camel and Chesterfield, for example. The camps were for combat engineers with varied skills. As a carpenter, Tinsmith help build barracks to provide housing for those whose homes were destroyed in the battle for Europe. The engineers were also assigned to repair or to build anew bombed out bridges. Tinsmith was a member of crew that built anew the bridge over the historic Rhine River.

When Tinsmith returned to United States after the war ended, he went back to school – night school – in 1946, where he earned his high school diploma. And now he proudly wears a hat proclaiming him a JHS graduate.

Tinsmith joined the Legion in downtown Johnstown in 1946 and then transferred to the Richland American Legion Post in 1995.

His wife, the former Shirley Gutwald, died in 1984.

“I think of the World War II days often and my heart goes out to my fellow veterans who did so much in so little time to provide us with the freedoms we enjoy today. My hat’s off to each and every one of them,” he said.

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